It's strange, given that Dark Houses was recorded roughly a decade in the past, but I don't think I've heard another album this year that so perfectly captures the prevailing mood of Great Britain in 2016. It's hard not to be reminded of our present mid-Brexit malaise upon hearing the lyrics of the wonderfully drunken-sounding Rot and Gin:
"We're an island lost at sea
Save yourselves, here monsters be
A land of drunken drinkers drink
To everything we used to be"
There's a nostalgia in that lyric (and elsewhere on this album) that very closely resembles the longing that seemingly drove many people to vote Leave back in June, the longing to return to an idealistic past version of Great Britain that may or may not ever have existed. "This country isn't what it was," sings Sam Herlihy on Pidgin England, and for a moment you wonder if this thrilling, widescreen rock album was masterminded by a Daily Express reader.
However, there's a poisonous undertone to Herlihy's lamentations that suggests he's actually kind of appalled by the direction this country is headed in. For one thing, the overall sound of Dark Houses is nothing short of apocalyptic, combining standard rock instruments with orchestral arrangements to create the sonic equivalent of this Viktor Vasnetsov painting:
But you don't even have to hear Dark Houses to realise that it's far, far from a misty-eyed ode to the glory days of the British Empire. You just have to read some of the other lyrics from Pidgin England:
"All of us are pigeons under cold grey skies, there's not a single thing as lonely as this"
"England is a drunkard yelling Auld Lang Syne"
"The 21st century's too fast for a land that's built on green fields and romance"
The country of which Dark Houses paints a picture is one full of drunken boors, office blocks, and an almost overwhelming greyness. That last line in particular suggests that Sam Herlihy thinks Britain's determination to cling to the past has prevented us from prospering right here in the present.
But then he doesn't seem entirely happy with the present, either. If this album has a central message, it's probably somewhere to be found on Direction of God:
This song - especially its chorus, which encourages listeners to pack their suits away and throw their phones "into the sea" - reminds me of Neal Brose, a character from David Mitchell's 1999 novel Ghostwritten. (Potential spoilers ahead.) Neal is a financial lawyer working for a firm in Hong Kong, but after a series of stressful events, he has a complete breakdown and ends up throwing away his pager, his mobile phone and his briefcase as he bunks off work and wanders off to climb a hill instead.
You see, there are optimistic moments on Dark Houses (most notably Direction of God and Silver And Red) - they sound bruised, ragged, and a little desperate, but there's an optimism there nonethless, as if the band are making a last-ditch grab for freedom and happiness in a world that's quickly being swallowed up. However, the big message here seems to be that none of us will get our hands on that happiness unless we burst out of our hi-tech, ultra-corporate bubbles and, y'know, love each other and sing songs and stuff.
You can buy Dark Houses from The Lost Music Club's website, and I strongly recommend that you do, especially if you're a fan of The Lost Riots by Hope of the States - it's a lot like that album, except with more hooks.